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Izetbegovic to retire before realizing dream of reunified Bosnia

SARAJEVO, Jun 8, 2000 -- (AFP) Alija Izetbegovic, the hero of Muslim resistance during the Sarajevo siege, will step down from Bosnia's presidency in October without having fulfilled his dream of seeing a reunified and rebuilt Bosnia.

The 75-year-old Muslim leader, key figure in the 1992-95 Bosnian war, announced late Tuesday he was stepping down from the tripartite presidency in October, two years before his mandate expires.

Izetbegovic, who has reportedly suffered two heart attacks, is stepping down because of age and failing health. He told the nation he was no longer in the "physical and psychological shape" for the post.

He said he still hoped to see the dream of Bosnian patriots for a unified, democratic and prosperous Bosnia come true, adding: "I will contribute to the fulfillment of that goal as much as I can."

Izetbegovic said he would the remain president of his Party of Democratic Action (SDA).

Admitting "a number of mistakes and failures" by both himself and his ruling party in the post-war period, Izetbegovic said he was "dissatisfied with the pace" of building a reunified Bosnia.

And he accused the international community which is heavily involved in the Bosnian peace process, of trying to reduce the influence of Muslims who make up more than 40 percent of the country's population.

"Although the international community is pushing the Bosnia project, they occasionally do it at the expense of the Muslim people," he said, preventing their "political and national emancipation."

The SDA, which has ruled for the past decade alongside ethnic parties representing Bosnian Serbs and Croats, has been accused by the international community of trying to dominate the multi-ethnic state.

In the post-war period Izetbegovic, who won the Muslim seat in the tripartite presidency -- alongside Serb Zivko Radisic and Croat Ante Jelavic -- in two post-war general elections, has faced criticism from some Muslims who accuse him of failing to improve the difficult economic situation.

Almost five years since the Dayton peace accords ended the war, Bosnia remains divided along ethnic lines, with a weak central government that hardly functions.

Despite 5.2 billion US dollars in foreign aid for reconstruction and strong international community involvement in setting up its institutions, Bosnia has failed to establish a self-sustaining economy.

Some 1.2 million Bosnian refugees are still unable to return to their pre-war homes, mainly due to their ethnicity.

A former dissident of the Yugoslav communist regime, Izetbegovic led the Muslim-dominated Bosnian government that supported the concept of a multi-ethnic Bosnian state throughout the brutal 1992-95 war in which more than 200,000 people were killed.

The war was triggered by the country's declaration of independence from the former Yugoslavia, a move rejected by pro-Belgrade Bosnian Serbs.

Izetbegovic became the hero of the three-and-a-half-year-long siege of Sarajevo, running the government from sandbagged buildings which were under constant threat from Bosnian Serb artillery and sniper attacks.

In his broadcast to the nation Tuesday, Izetbegovic said his greatest achievement as president was his success in preventing Bosnia "becoming a part of a greater Serbia," a project launched by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic before the breakup of Serb-dominated former Yugoslavia.

"I am sure that without me and without the organized Bosniac (Bosnian Muslim) people, without the SDA, this would have certainly happened," he said.

In such a scenario "we would have Karadzic and Milosevic ruling" a reference to Bosnia's wartime Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, who is still at large despite being indicted for warcrimes.



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